Evening harm reduction program for street drug users ends in Prince Albert

Needle clean-up in Prince Albert’s downtown on May 6. (Lisa Risom/CTV News)

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) closed a peer-led after-hours harm reduction program for drug users at the end of March when its three-year grant obtained through Health Canada expired. 

“Very popular program coming out of COVID in the past couple of years that had a big impact,” said SHA Prince Albert regional HIV coordinator, Paulette Martin.

The after-hours program ran four hours a night Monday to Thursday, and also on weekends. She says workers were able to easily engage clients because they had “lived experience” and were making strides to educate clients and steer them to medical support and counselling.

“We’re looking for possible future projects,” said Martin about re-starting peer-led support programming.

The SHA says the needle exchange program for intravenous street drug users currently running is an important part of harm reduction and disease transmission rates in the community.

“It’s vitally important for it to run to prevent HIV, hepatits C and to save lives,” Martin said.

She says the needle exchange program at Access Place is run by only one staff person.

“So they work really hard and so does the rest of the team," Martin said. 

She says clients who engage in the needle exchange program or Access Places can easily access care from sexual health nurses, HIV and hepatitis clinicians, nurse practitioner, mental health and addiction workers. A physician also comes to the clinic every weekday afternoon.

“So when we can actually have in the moment, when somebody wants to be supported in their health, we really want to support them and do it as quick as possible,” Martin said.

During Prince Albert’s Pitch-In Week May 1 to 7, staff and volunteers from Access Place cleaned up discarded needles in the community.

“We’re finding that as in the past that we’re seeing less needle that on the ground in the community.”

The most recent statistics provided to CTV News by SHA show in 2018, over 1 million needles were distributed to clients and returned to health staff in Prince Albert in one year.